Last week, Hansi Flick announced his decision to leave Bayern Munich come the end of the season. The likeliest man to come in and replace him? – RB Leipzig’s Julian Nagelsmann. But how would Julian Nagelsmann revolutionize Bayern Munich? These are some of the German’s key principles of play and what he might add to die Roten next season.
Julian Nagelsmann has used a back-three at both his Bundesliga clubs, easing into a 3-1-4-2 or 3-4-2-1 at Leipzig this season, after favouring a back-four in his first season at the club. With 1899 Hoffenheim, the German used a 3-1-4-2 throughout his time in charge, even leading them to the UEFA Champions League for the first time in their history. The back-three system allows Nagelsmann’s side to keep possession, while looking to achieve numerical superiorities in both wide and central areas at different moments. In these systems of play they also condense themselves close together, with the defenders well within the opposition’s half in attacking phases, and the strikers dropping back to help in defensive phases.
Bayern Munich on the other hand haven’t really played a back-three formation since Pep Guardiola, and even under the Spaniard it was a rarity. It would be a marked change if the 33-year-old were to transfer the formation over to the Bavarian club, but it could be a very positive change. Alphonso Davies for example would likely work even better as a wing-back, while Benjamin Pavard and Lucas Hernandez would be perfect fits for the outside-centre-back positions. Thomas Muller is intelligent enough with his movement to adapt to any system of play, while Joshua Kimmich would dominate the midfield as the ‘number six’. It may be a case where Leipzig eases his players into a back-three over time, and sticks to what they are most comfortable with in his first season in charge, as he did at Leipzig. But the Bavarians could be in for some innovative tactics that they’ve never really seen before if they hire the 33-year-old.
PRESS & POSSESS
Julian Nagelsmann is a press and possess coach. Leipzig look to control games through quick, short passes, stretching the field and opening up the game. Then, immediately after losing the ball, they look to win it back as quickly as possible. The team’s approach to have all of their players in the same half aids in both their ability to combine in possession, and in their ability to win the ball back.
When the team press, they look to force their opposition into wide areas. The wing-backs, outside-centre-backs and central midfielders will then work together to stop attacks, if the strikers haven’t stopped the opposition already. In the 3-1-4-2 it is particularly easy for a team like Leipzig or 1899 Hoffenheim to fulfill this agenda, as two strikers and three central midfielders are naturally in the way to stop the opposition from playing passes into central channels. The positioning of their players to remain in close proximity and hold true to their attacking roles also allows the team to have natural outlets to break in transition and attack. For example, in a pressing diamond on Leipzig’s left side, the left striker might be involved in the press, as the right striker remains high and central. If the team succeed in their press, the right striker is in a great position to help the team have a quick a route to goal.
Leipzig have also improved massively as a possession-based team under Julian Nagelsmann, achieving 57% possession in their matches this season. They’ve also completed the same amount of short passes per game as Bayern Munich (541). The Red Bulls often attempt to break the lines by playing through central channels, with the joint-most vertical approach to their attacks in the league alongside Borussia Monchengladbach. But while Gladbach are a counter-attacking side and complete more dribbles, Leipzig’s centrality is purely down to controlling the game and breaking the opposition down through their attacking quartet (two attacking midfielders and two strikers). It’s also not as though they only attack through the centre of the pitch – still maintaining width with wing-backs like Angelino and Tyler Adams.
With this press and possess mentality, Julian Nagelsmann is a natural fit for Bayern Munich. Given that he’s achieved 57% possession this season with Leipzig, it’s almost scary to think how much dominance his Bayern team might have. The 33-year-old manager might even take the notion of controlling matches to near Guardiola levels, and implement innovative tactics we’ve never seen before. The deal to sign the Leipzig manager is likely to happen in the next few days to weeks, as Nagelsmann looks set to become the most expensive managerial signing in the history of the game.